"My journey to Catholicism so far has been as rocky as the mountains and even more beautiful. Though I have struggled frequently, I know the timing has been exactly right. I trust that all things work for good, and believe this to be the greatest decision I will make in all my life. I find proof of this every time I enter the chapel: I let out a sigh of relief, dip my fingers into cold holy water, inhale the musky scent of incense and cross a silent threshold into home."
"Reading the OT in its original language. Correct me if I'm wrong, of course, but that sounds like you could definitely be Catholic..."
Er, not quite, I thought to myself in response to the all-too-curious graduate student. Little did I know that this graduate student would become my fiance. Little did I know that this first mention of Catholicism was a seed being dropped into eager soil.
During my freshman year of college I fell in love--eventually with the aforementioned boy, but more importantly with a church, with the Church. I didn't realize what was taking root that Winter. I didn't know that the first Mass I went to on campus would only be the first step to a race I never want to end. I have perhaps never been more naive throughout my university years than in those months I said, "I just want to learn the differences." G. K. Chesterton aptly wrote, "It is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church. The moment men cease to pull against it they feel a tug towards it. The moment they cease to shout it down they begin to listen to it with pleasure. The moment they try to be fair to it they begin to be fond of it. But when that affection has passed a certain point it begins to take on the tragic and menacing grandeur of a great love affair."
I recently passed three year mark since the first Mass I described going to here. Sometimes it is hard to remember being that girl, the girl who knew nothing, to whom all these actions and prayers were unfamiliar. I know the differences when I'm at Mass nearly reciting the priest's part in my head or when I'm home singing the Gloria under my breath as I complete cleaning tasks. Other times, I see the similarities between myself and that girl, the girl who was struck by wonder, in curious awe of what was happening before her. I know the similarities when I'm straining for a glimpse of the Blessed Sacrament or when the image of the Crucifix pierces my heart in a new way.
I have so many fond memories of what I now label the "Early Days," which for now is the last three years, though I'm sure as I get older the window will get wider. The first Mass, the first mid-day hour I spontaneously said, "I'm going to the chapel" (which, if I remember correctly, was during Holy Week; that seems quite appropriate), the first time I had a conversation at Mass with a young man who was in RCIA at the time, the first time I said I wanted to convert, the first Rosary, the girl assigned to be my sponsor who became one of my most favorite persons in the world, the boy I discovered I shared multiple courses and now faith with, the first Confession, the first prayer to Mary for my family, the first friend I brought to Mass, the first post-Mass adventure with friends with whom I could celebrate, commiserate and not need to explain because they just knew.
Lately, I have noticed many little "hints" to Catholicism, as I think of them, planted throughout my life. They were small seeds--my Catholic great-grandmother's very Catholic jewelry box bequeathed to me at her death, Rosary-themed songs in a pile of sheet music given to me, the back-of-the-brain prickling feeling that there was a piece I was missing in the faith puzzle at ten years old--that bloomed into realization only in the last couple of years. I wonder how many of the "Easter eggs" were planted in my childhood and how many are being planted right now that I will not fully understand for another ten years. The faith is truly beautiful as a rose: it slowly opens, revealing more and more layers, delighting the heart as time goes on.
I still wake up or pause throughout my day, realizing, "I'm Catholic." Sometimes I'm surprised, because waiting for Easter Vigil seemed to last ages. Other times I'm thankful; "I get to be Catholic." There was a beautiful way about the "Early Days," which I will try to describe. I think back on moments in the chapel or immersed in conversation or simply being in the presence of those in RCIA and everything seems light, weightless. Of course faith is a very big deal, and conversion should be considered with absolute seriousness, but often it felt as though every RCIA Thursday night or Summer Sunday morning was a small victory. I doubt I thought of it in such a way at the time--I was too busy wrapping up against the cold or weaving through busy sidewalks or climbing up the stairs and sliding into pews as Father began the sign of the cross. Each moment stands out, but is united with the others, and I now see a theme.
Freedom. I was given the freedom to explore the most freeing thing I've ever known. I could just sum it up as "right time, right place," but there's more than that. There's "right people" and "right words," "right Gospel passage" and "right hymn," "right gesture" and "right smile." Even then it isn't enough. These right people didn't sound like a broken record when they spoke about Jesus Christ: they sounded like they firmly believed everything they said. And those words weren't just words, they were words that stuck with me, that made me think about my own life in ways I never had before. And the right Gospel passage said, "You know you've been failing in this area," while the right hymn said, "God knows you better than you know yourself and will help you with this." The right gestures felt like hugs and the hugs felt like your entire body smiling and the right smiles felt like finally "getting" the "one body in Christ" bit in a way that wasn't "Let's all get along now," but was more "We're bonded in a way no other group can be."
I know an air of persecution at the time would not have stopped me from converting. Perhaps I lucked out with the glowing experience I had. Perhaps it was only one season--an educational one, a fairly easy one, a simple "here is the truth" season. Now there are more seasons to experience. However, I cannot be more thankful that my conversion occurred in a Spring-like season of my life, where the sunlight lit the path and seeds of understanding took root. It was a season during which I learned about things more important than my college courses could tell me. Whichever season I am in now, I find my mind wandering through halls and pews, nostalgic as I often am, but thankful nonetheless to have entered the Church in the way I did.
Opportunities for instruction, discussion, prayer, answers and questions abounded. I feel lucky to have had the enriching soil of these opportunities around me. Every time I tread across the cobblestone courtyard or ascended the stairs or hastened down a chapel aisle, every time I bowed or drew my eyes to the Crucifix or made the sign of the Cross, every "And with your spirit," every "Thanks be to God" and every "Amen" matters. My conversion would not be the same without them.